By MIKE CHAIKEN
In 1998, openly gay youth Matthew Shepard was the victim of a hate crime that shook the nation.
According to the website of the foundation that bears his name (MatthewShepard.org), “Two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, abducted Matt and drove him to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyom. He was tied to a split-rail fence where the two men severely assaulted him with the butt of a pistol. He was beaten and left to die in the cold of the night.”
That story is the launching point for the play, “The Laramie Project,” written by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews conducted in Laramie after the crime.
Bristol Eastern Theater Arts is tackling the play starting next Thursday through Saturday.
None of the young cast members at Bristol Eastern High School were alive when Shepard died in 1998.
But the hate crime is one they say still holds interest in 2016.
“The show is important to me personally because I have a lot of family and friends affected directly by the topic,” said Valerie Bush. “(My brother) has been in various fights. He’s been beaten up because he’s gay, which is not fair.”
“I think (‘The Laramie Project’ is) so relevant because stuff still happens even though this happened 20 years ago,” said Bush. “It’s still happening every day. It’s all so ridiculous.”
“Everyone is too afraid to address this,” said Bush, “that’s why we’re doing this show—to finally get it out there without it being a taboo subject.”
“Gay rights is an issue that is still relevant because people are homophobic or don’t understand the importance of accepting everyone,” said cast member Anna Korpanty “They are still problems that need to be addressed, still need to be talked, and there still needs to be awareness about them.”
“(‘The Laramie Project’) shows how it takes a brutal massacre to show the unfairness (of opposition to gay rights),” said Collin Sloan. “It should be a normal thing.”
“It’s relevant to me,” said Lacey Knox of the play because “it’s still happening.” Knox cited the recent massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla. as evidence of mistreatment of the gay community. “People who are lesbian or gay are still being treated unfairly. It’s 2016 and anything can happen. People still can’t be accepted for who they are.”
“The message (that the play) is portraying is that everyone should be treated equally. But when people aren’t treated equally, (the play shows) how wrong it is,” said Jade Cefaly, another cast member. “Society should be changing and bettering itself,” said Cefaly.
“It’s still going on,” said Sarah Daniels of the mistreatment of the gay community. “Even though people may want to hide from it… It’s important to bring it into focus”
“There still are a lot of people who aren’t accepting,” said Lauren Wrisley. “There needs to be the first person to take the first step and say that it is okay (to be gay).”
“I feel there shouldn’t be any bias,” said Juan Calderon, another cast member. “What’s the point? What is the reason for there to be (bias)?” The reason bias against the LGBQT community exists is that it has existed before, which is no reason at all, he said.
“Love is love is love,” said Calderone.
Bristol Eastern Theatre Arts presents “The Laramie Project” at Bristol Eastern High School, 632 King St., Bristol on Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students ($5 on Thursday), $10 for staff and students, and $12 for general admission.